By Brecht Decaluwé in Foix, France
33-year-old Kurt-Asle Arvesen took his first Tour de France stage win on Wednesday, giving his CSC-Saxo Bank team its first victory of this year's race. Arvesen said he felt he had gotten "revenge" for a similar stage in the 2005 Tour, when he was narrowly beaten by Paolo Savoldelli in the same region as today's stage finish in Foix. This time it was the Norwegian who raised his hands – almost too early – as he held off Swiss rider Martin Elmiger by the narrowest of margins.
"I was afraid that I would finish second again," Arvesen said. "I had really good legs today, but I made a mistake by being leading the group in the last corners. I didn't go 100% though and when the others started their sprint I was able to shift up two more cogs," Arvesen said.
"I expected someone to come over me on the line, but that didn't happen," he said, although Elmiger came close with a late surge and lost only by two centimetres.
By winning the stage Arvesen – the Norwegian road race champion who resides in Luxembourg - made sure that the CSC team could look back on the last week with a more than satisfied feeling. After having a difficult start in the first week where its three leaders lost quite a lot of time in the time trial, and world champion Fabian Cancellara didn't live up to the expectations that he'd win in Cholet, the team now has two riders in the top six of the general classification and an unexpected stage win in its pocket.
"This is the biggest win in my career," Arvesen exclaimed. "Before that I considered my two wins in the Giro d'Italia and the title in the U23 world championships [in 1997]."
Earlier this year in the E3-prijs Harelbeke, Arvesen managed to take the win in a similar way. He was in an early breakaway that stayed away until the finale, and kept attacking in the last kilometres. "Winning in the Tour while wearing the Norwegian champion's jersey is really big," Arvesen said.
When asked about what a victory like this means for Norwegian cycling Arvesen pointed out that it would continue to grow. "It's live on the Norwegian TV2 with good coverage. Then I noticed that there are a lot of Norwegian press people on site as well. It's not only me because there's also the Viking, Thor Hushovd, who has also won a stage in this Tour de France," Arvesen talked about his compatriot in this Tour. "I'm sure that the popularity of the sport will not be less in the future."
Arvesen didn't know that his team-mates had been pulling on the front of the peloton during the latter stages of the category one Col de Portel. "I didn't know that Pereiro had attacked, but that's not a big surprise. Anyway, the gap was big enough for us to fight for the stage win. CSC needed a stage win and now we've got it; we're relaxed now. We have a very strong team as you could see on Monday. We're waiting for the Alps to show that again," Arvesen said.
"As for me it means that I have to get back to work tomorrow," Arvesen laughed. "It's been a really hard Tour for me so far as I'm riding in the wind for Carlos and Fränk quite a lot. Now I should head for the team bus to grab a protein drink and recover because the coming days will be hard enough for me." And off went the Norwegian champion who will convert himself back into a domestique, after enjoying the most glorious day of his career near the Pyrenees, in Foix.